Since we’ve been away from our 1 Samuel series for a week let me catch you up to speed. In chapter 21 David is on the run from Saul yet again. On his way out of town he stops by to see Ahimelech the priest in the city of Nob and receives provisions from him for his journey before continuing his flight away from Saul. In chapter 22 Saul heard of this and laid waste to the city of Nob, yet, we see hope rising in the midst of such black darkness when Abiathar (a young priest) escaped with the ephod and fled to David along with 400 others who were disenchanted with Saul. Now in beginning of chapter 23 we see the next development in the collision between Saul and David.
David Saves Keilah (23:1-5)
v1 sets the stage for us. In it we find out that the Philistines have been raiding Keilah’s threshing floors. It’s important for us to know what the threshing floor was to understand the gravity of this situation in this city. The threshing floor was the place where you would gather up all the food you had gleaned from the field during harvest. It was the place that housed and held all the food supply for the city. That the Philistines were raiding the threshing floor of Keilah would be similar to a group of hooligans raiding all the groceries here in our city. You can imagine what the citizens of Keilah felt like because of this. It was highly frustrating for them because they did all the work to get the food, but the Philistines got all the enjoyment of eating it. It was also very dangerous for them because if there’s no food, they don’t eat. Well, apparently David had a very informed network around him and word of this crisis reaches him, and in v2 the first thing he does when hears of it, is pray.
“Lord, shall I go and attack these Philistines?” God answers, “Go and attack these Philistines and save Keilah.” But when David told his rag tag army, of what is now 600 disenchanted men, they responded in fear. “David, we’re scared here in Judah, how much more afraid will we be if we go attack the Philistines?” Before you cast shame upon David’s army think of it from their perspective. They had just fled from their own cities at the start of chapter 22 because they were distressed with Saul’s leadership and now their new leader, David, wants them to fight the enemies of Israel? This was the first battle for many of these folks, so to respond to David’s command in fear is fairly normal. And David, being a good leader, was sensitive to the fears and anxieties of his people. He listened to them and rather than forcing them to obey him he returned to God in prayer, but in v4 God answered again saying, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” So the people, trusting God over despite their fears, obeyed and under the leadership of David they went and attacked the Philistines. v5 tells us God was faithful to His Word and the Philistines were struck with a great blow that day because God had given them into David’s hand.
Pause for a moment and see here that under the leadership of David, God led His people to triumph, not around their fears, not away from their fears, and God didn’t get rid of their fears. No, Go led them to triumph right through their fears. They needed to learn that God was bigger than all that frightens them. The people should fear Him instead of fearing anything or anyone else. Learn here Church, God deals with you and I in the same manner. He knows our frame. That we are but dust. In His grace He takes us where we haven’t intended to go, in order to produce in us what we couldn’t achieve on our own. This is what Paul Tripp calls the theology of uncomfortable grace. If it were up to us, would we ever choose to be uncomfortable in this life? Would we ever choose to do something or go somewhere that is hard for us? No, we wouldn’t. Yet, everything we want in the Christian life lies directly outside our comfort zone…Praise God, that He takes us where we wouldn’t go on our own, and produces in us what we couldn’t achieve on our own. He leads us well.
David Flees Keilah (23:7-14)
Skip ahead to v7. It appears that just as David was very well connected around the nation, so was Saul, and he heard that David was now in the city of Keilah. Rather than rejoicing that God, through David, had saved His own people from the Philistines Saul thinks God had delivered David to him on a silver platter. He says as much in v8, “God has given David into my hand, because David is within a city with gates and bars.” Now, clearly we see the vile nature of Saul’s heart in this passage. But did you notice that Saul is still using theological language here? Saul truly thinks God is still on his side even though he himself hasn’t been on God’s side for a long time. Beware the deception of sin. Rather than ridding your heart and mind of all theology, Satan loves to twist our theology so that it bows to our agenda rather than God’s. Saul is yet again, a warning for us about what we could become if we let sin grow deep within us, as well as what we could become if we seek to do theology for our own purposes rather than doing theology to know God better.
From this false theology Saul gathers his own troops in v8 and sets out to attack David in the city Keilah. But David hears that Saul is coming to attack so he calls for Abiathar and the ephod and he prays asking two questions, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” God responds in the affirmative and David knows that, in view of Saul’s brutality with the city of Nob, he must leave the city of Keilah, that he just saved, so that it will be saved from Saul’s wrath. So he does. He and his 600 man army leave to go wherever they can go, ending up in the wilderness of Ziph. When Saul hears that David had left Keilah he turns around and the text says that he daily sought to hunt David down, but in v14 we see God never gives him into his hand.
The Prominence of the Priest (23:6)
Did you notice I skipped v6? v6 functions as the centerpiece of these first 14 verses in chapter 23. Let’s read it and then see why it matters so much for this text and for us. It says, “When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand.”
Here in this one verse we see (first) the reason the city of Keilah had been saved, and (second) the reason David and his men were saved from Saul afterwards. How did these two events take place? They took place because God gave David guidance through the appointed priest. David here enjoys the privilege of having not only Gad the prophet with him, but Abiathar the priest as well. Now it is true that David is the anointed king of Israel and because of the Davidic Covenant David functions in a role within the Kingdom of God that is vastly more important than you or I will ever have. But, do not despair. Do we not also have access to God’s guidance through His appointed Priest? Of course we do. We have such guidance and direction through the greatest Priest of all, through Jesus Christ, our High Priest.
Hebrews 4 states that the reason we can come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in times of need is that we have, in Jesus, a great High Priest who not only knows our weaknesses but was tempted in all ways we are in His humanity, yet was without sin. As Abiathar was able to comfort and direct David while he was fleeing for his life, so too Jesus our High Priest, comforts and directs us His people in the midst of any circumstance we find ourselves in. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 25 speaks of the prominence of Jesus’ priesthood when it asks: “How does Christ execute the office of a priest? Answer: Christ executes the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.” This reveals that there are two primary functions of the Priesthood of Christ:
a) He is our Mediator
As priest Abiathar stood in the gap between David and God, functioning as David’s representative before God to find guidance from God. So too Jesus does the same for you and for me. Paul tells young Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5, “…there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…” That Jesus is our divine and human Mediator means He is both God’s representative to us and our representative to God.
As our Priestly Mediator, Jesus accomplished the work of substitution, meaning that as our Priest Jesus not only made an offering for us as Old Testaments Priests would often do, but He was the offering Himself. He was the ‘sacrificial animal’ or the ‘unblemished Lamb’ that bore our sins. No other Priest ever did such a thing. There was always an animal or something other than the priest himself that he would offer to God. Not so with Jesus, for Jesus was the offering. In our place, as our substitute He bore the wrath of God that we deserved.
As our Priestly Mediator Jesus accomplished the work of not only substitution but satisfaction too. Just as the unblemished animal offered up to God in bloody fire satisfied God’s wrath and justice on the people’s behalf, so too, when Jesus offered Himself up as our substitute He satisfied God’s wrath and justice on our behalf. That His bloody sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath means nothing else needs to be added to His perfect work. Christ’s work alone is able to save all those who come to Him.
As our Priestly Mediator Jesus accomplished not only the work of satisfaction and substitution but the work of reconciliation also. Because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place as our substitute God was not only satisfied but God was also reconciled to man. Due to sin all men are not merely separated from God, we’re alienated from God and hostile to Him. I know it’s popular to think of man simply as a creature in need of improvement but this is not the truth. We are rebels that must lay down our arms. Because of the blood of Jesus, we who were once alienated and hostile have been reconciled to God. That we’re reconciled to God means that all believers now have been given the ministry of reconciliation, spreading this message to the ends of the earth through any and every means we can.
When most people think of Jesus’ Priestly work on our behalf these are the things they think of. But we shouldn’t stop here because His Priestly work is more than His atonement, in fact, this very morning Jesus’ Priestly work isn’t over, it continues, and will continue until He returns. During His incarnation His Priestly work took place in terms of His sacrificial atoning work, but in His resurrection and ascension His Priestly work continues in terms of His intercession.
b) He is our Intercessor
In a beautiful section of Hebrews 7-8, the author says this in 7:23-25, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but Jesus holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
To intercede for someone is to plead or pray for someone. These verses teach that Jesus, after His ascension, is still carrying out His Priestly work by continually praying and pleading to His Father about us and for us. What does He pray for? What does He pray about? Certainly it’s not Jesus pleading with the Father in a way we would plead or beg someone to do something. No, it’s far greater than this. Thomas Vincent commenting on this states, “Christ, in His intercession does pray to and plead with God, as our advocate, that through the merit of His death we might be actually reconciled, our persons accepted, our sins pardoned, our consciences quieted, our prayers answered, and at last our souls saved.” By saying this Vincent does not mean to belittle the cross and it’s work, he simply means to show us that through His intercession Jesus applies His fully sufficient work to the hearts of His people. He pleads the merits of His blood and pleads the merits of His righteousness. Jesus truly is our Advocate (1 John 2:1).
Therefore, we owe our standing in grace every moment to His sitting in glory and interceding for us every moment. This is how we will persevere in faith until the end, because He is completing the work He’s begun, applying it to our hearts by His Spirit. This is an incredibly encouraging truth regardless where we are in life. Knowing Jesus right now, at this very moment, is praying and pleading for us before His Father, continually applying His redemptive work to our hearts so that we grow from degree of glory to another, gives a solidity to the soul, a boldness to the bones, and encourages us to risk all for the sake of the Gospel. Robert Murray M’Cheyne felt this and said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies, yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
So let’s end by bringing this back to 1 Samuel. In the beginning of chapter 22 Saul complains that no one reveals urgent matters to him. He is in the dark, God has left him. Contrast that with the beginning of chapter 23 where God reveals to David all that he needs to know. He is in the light, God is with him. Why is he in the light? How is God with Him? Through the priest.
Behold the prominence of the priest.
How much more can we now say that we are in the light, and how much more can we now say that God is with us? ‘Before the throne of God above, we have a strong and perfect plea, a great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me.’
Because He sits in heaven for us, we can stand here on earth for Him.